'Jackie': Natalie Portman imitates Jacqueline Kennedy effectively (Review by Subhash K Jha ; Rating: ***)
When it comes to biopics, there is a very thin line dividing a homage from mimicry. The very beautiful and skilled Natalie Portman pulls off the fears, insecurities , anxieties, sorrows and the overpowering elegance of the iconic Jacqueline Kennedy after her husband the legendary John F Kennedy was gunned down.
Those tricky four days after the ghastly tragedy when the US and its allies held their breath, must have been terribly trying times for the President's glamorous widow.
Portman as Jackie never stops looking glamorous even as she grieves for not just her beloved husband but all the perks that came with being the First Lady. Her interactions with her brother-in-law Bob Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and her closest confidante in the White House Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) fulfil the portrait of an incomplete woman.
Chilean director Pablo Larrain doesn't allow his heroine to enjoy her tragic role. There is a sense of holding back, of reining-in her emotions even when they threaten to spill over. This restraint, I felt, came in equal measures from how the real Jackie Kennedy was and the way Larrain has elected to have her played by Portman.
There are several occasions when you feel the screen could erupt into a cathartic cry of bereavement.
Even when the beautiful Mrs Kennedy is shown alone in her bedroom (drinking and contemplating a life ahead of solitude) or with her heartbreakingly young children telling them that daddy won't come home again, the narrative mood -- pinned down by a harsh emotion-less background score -- remains dispassionate and withdrawn, as though it (the narrative) wouldn't really dare to go beneath that immaculate mask of the chic First Lady who wouldn't stop being the President's wife even when he is dead.
The narrative has Jackie doing confessionals with two attentive characters -- a journalist (played by Billy Crudup) and a priest (John Hurt, in his farewell performance). In both the conversations, we see Jackie Kennedy playing the role of the grieving First Lady.
Natalie Portman pulls off the emotional austerity well but fumbles with the Jackie twang and accent. And that constant lip and mouth movement is quite distracting. It is a skilled and an accomplished performance. But not a great one. Likewise, the film leaves us underwhelmed. Jackie Kennedy was too proper in her conduct to let anyone (including probably herself) know her true feelings.
Instead of probing, the film plays along with her. And that's a tragedy beyond the one we see Jackie Kennedy grappling so suavely with.
'Jackie': A riveting drama well told (Review By Troy Ribeiro ; Rating: ***1/2)
"Jackie", a biographical drama, follows Jacqueline Kennedy during the days when she was the First Lady of America and the few days following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. It also delivers an important commentary on human nature and American culture.
Partly based on Theodore H. White's Life magazine interview with the widow at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, US, it is a fascinating glimpse into the personal space of the lady, who many think they knew well because of her glamour and television appearances.
Unlike regular biopics which are either presented in a cradle-to-grave narrative or the nouveau approach of using one clarifying moment to better examine and sum up the person, Screenwriter Noah Oppenheim's script is a three-layered mosaic with snippets of the interview, the thematically-tethered memories and the funeral planning.
This non-linear plot hypnotically engages the audience as it provides a clever conceit to its metatextuality. It gives you a strangely conflicting portrayal of Jackie as an obsessive mythmaker and keeper of the flame -- an ironic, provocative approach -- yet celebrates the Camelot myth in the process.
For the uninitiated, Camelot was JFK's favourite Broadway musical. It is the story of a mythical world, ruled by King Arthur, where goodness reigned supreme.
In the midst of the unimaginable tragedy, she had a key focus: To ensure that her husband's legacy -- to change the world into a better place is protected among all the well-wishers, political vultures and craven opportunists. And to do that, she spun the fantasy by quoting from the musical, "Don't let it be forgot, that for one brief, shining moment there was Camelot."
If the account is true, the film portrays Jackie Kennedy as being awfully smug and pretentious. But with that being said, the audience is constantly reminded of how traumatic an experience she went through, and asks how we would feel if we were put into the same position. Nevertheless, we're left with an immersive, impressionistic look, which is hard to distinguish the performance from the woman herself.
Shot in the style reminiscent of its 1960s time period, along with archival footage that blends the difference between documentary and recreation, director Pablo Larrain adds another stylistic level to the proceedings. The various threads of connectivity are so much more interesting to dissect with this storytelling approach that it makes the film a much deeper and more contemplative experience to unpack.
Natalie Portman as Jackie is impressive. She goes beyond mere imitation. She has got the voice, the look and she essays the devastated spirit that still has plenty of steel, with natural ease. With exacting close-ups, we get to watch an array of emotions play across her face. She has moments of strength, moments of pettiness, moments of heart-tugging lows and weakness. And Portman mesmerizes you with her fascinating yet complex performance.
She is aptly supported by Billy Crudup as the unnamed journalist, Caspar Phillipson as President Kennedy, Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, John Carrol Lynch as the next President, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Hurt as the priest, Max Casella as Jack Valenti -- Johnson's newly elevated special assistant.
Overall, with a proper tone, accurate setting and above all, an unforgettable performance, Jackie is a powerful, subtle and dark film made only more emotional by the grating soundtrack.